What are Live Projects? A UK term, it refers to collaborations between architecture schools and real clients on real projects. In the US, for example, these are merely referred to as industry collaborations. Clients are widely variant, from municipal governments and youth organizations, as well as galleries and community-based gardens.
There are many iterations of this teaching model in the UK so the issue is, how to determine a good fit for prospective students? One issue that is increasingly at the fore of students’ minds is how to balance idealism with practical skills. At Birmingham City University’sBIAD (Birmingham Institute of Art and Design), the program is structured precisely to help students achieve that balance.
Kevin Singh, Head of School, explains: “CO.LAB is the collective term for our live projects. We have a module [i.e. program] at the undergraduate level (Co-Lab 1), and one for M.Arch (Co-Lab 2). However, many projects are done across the 2 courses with post grads working with undergrads.” Each Co-Lab course is worth 15 credits, which equals a year-long course of 150 hours. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every project will occupy the entire 150 hours because each is different. Rather, these are the total credits one receives for completing a Co-Lab project.
Of course, there is the issue of project outcomes. How does the course ensure that students produce meaningful results for clients, many of whom are non-profit, community-based organizations? Says Mr. Singh, “Because the projects are brought to us by clients, we decide between us at the beginning what the outcome needs to be and so the client is always happy.” In other words, parameters are set forth at the outset, and if they cannot be achieved, then the project won’t be accepted by Co-Lab. Sometimes, then, the goal is a tangible, physical product, other times the goal is a conceptual model to present to donors, and sometimes, it is a set of goals for future development.
But this is not the only exposure students receive to architecture as it is practiced by professionals. BIAD also incorporates “tutorials” into its curriculum, in which students work in local firms to gain first-hand experience: “Full time M,Arch students can book a tutorial in a local practice to supplement their normal weekly tutorial in the School. This encourages students to be more professional as they have to make the appointment, prepare, arrive on time, and make the most of the limited time, just as you would do in a real consultant meeting. It also offers students the opportunity to network with architects in practice during a recession which is limiting students' exposure to practice.” These “Teaching Practice” studios are an addition to the core studios, with projects located all over the world. Past project sites have included Instanbul and Barcelona.
BIAD rounds out their mission to equip students with a balance of design and practical skills by requiring a year-long course in law and business management. This is very unusual and a welcome approach to a field whose education too often emphasizes achieving starchitect-dom through design rather than learning how to participate in or run a successful, service-oriented business upon graduation. As has been observed elsewhere, students unschooled in the practicalities of business can easily assume that their designs take precedence over client needs and clients should merely “listen.” BIAD combats this one-sided education by requiring practice and law management courses for B.Arch, Postgraduate Diploma and M.Arch students.
In fact, the goal of strategically incorporating design and practical skills interwoven throughout every year of a student’s coursework, provides a key balance that results in increased opportunities and marketability upon graduation. Conveniently, students can pursue both the B,Arch and M,Arch either as full-time or part-time students. Tuition is adjusted accordingly. For Full-time yearly tuition for domestic students is £8200 for the B.Arch and £3500 for the M.Arch. For international students, tuition is around €11601 or $15660 per year. The B.Arch is a 3 year full-time program, 4 years part-time, while the M.Arch is 2 years full-time, 3 years part-time. Those fees are £1,732.50 for the first year, £1,732.50 for the second, and £3,465.00 for the third. For prospective students interested in learning how to practice and design architecture, this is a school worth investigating.